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Tips & Techniques

Back It Up

I think backstitches sometimes get overlooked or are given only a cursory glance, which is unfortunate. They are simpler than a cross stitch and take very little time on most projects, but these tiny straight stitches add so much to designs. They separate motifs, create curves along edges, bring life to faces, and even form their own projects sometimes. But, like with any stitch, there are a few things to keep in mind when working to make sure your backstitches complement your finished piece beautifully.

  1. Pay attention to strand count for backstitches. The designer has a reason for suggesting one or two strands, depending on the project, and altering those recommended numbers can give you different results.
  2. Work carefully over the top of existing cross stitches. Backstitches should almost always be added after all cross stitches are in place, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's usually easy to tell where they go along edges, but you have to take care not to split your existing stitches with your needle or bring up thread fuzz when you stitch the backstitch. Double-check to make sure your needle is clean as you pull it through the linen to keep fuzz and split stitches to a minimum.
  3. Be careful not to pull too hard on the backstitch. Your backstitch should sit between existing stitches but not sink down and become invisible. It's a careful, delicate dance; the stitch needs to be "level" with the cross stitches so as to complement them and work with the pattern, but it doesn't need to be above the stitches or below them. When working over the top of cross stitches, make sure to pull enough to make the backstitch sit directly on the cross and not create a crevice in the stitch.
  4. Tension is even more important when working a backstitch-only motif. The backstitch can't hide in the stitches -- it is front and center. Paying special attention to your backstitch ensures that you don't wind up with holes in the linen from tugging too hard or wonky lines in the backstitch from not pulling hard enough.
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